Sunday 19 May 2019

Billy Keane: Hope springs for Clifford, but Fitzmaurice in need of a one-year plan

David Clifford had more assists than a St Bernard in the first half. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
David Clifford had more assists than a St Bernard in the first half. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Nearly 11,000 came to Killarney. Kerry were missing 19 players. Donegal finished up with 13 men; Kerry ended with 14, and won by just one point.

But enough of the numbers. Number crunching nearly ruined the country and the game of Gaelic football.

This game was more open than most and in the end the winning score came from local boy Daithí Casey from Dr Crokes, just across the road. Casey changed the game when he came on with that Power of One point.

Spring is but a few days away and I say good riddance to wet and dry January. I saw a lone daffodil on the way to the game. We hope the little bloom hasn't peaked too soon.

The evenings are lengthening now and Killarney is airing the tourists' beds.

Spring is about starting over and all of Kerry are hoping our winning minor teams will train on. Donegal are rebuilding too. Their new coach is a fan of fun. There's talk in Kerry of a three-year plan. That scares me. By then Dublin will be heading for seven-in-a-row. Let's concentrate on a one-year plan.

But we must give youth the chance to grow. Kerry were so young there were rumours a lollipop lady was on duty in Fitzgerald Stadium.

The traffic was heavy. The hold-up wasn't down to a jet-lagged American tourist, or a Sunday driver wiping gravy off his going to Mass suit.

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For once Kerry people left on time. We are a county where the clockmakers inscribe an 'ish' after every number on the dial. The 11k were only dying to see the new boys.

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David Clifford is only barely old enough to have a drink on Good Friday, but hums one put b seats - 11,000 is a fair old crowd for a Sunday in January when the game was on delayed TV. Maybe the 11,000 were afraid the ubiquitous spoiler would tell them the result. There's always one.

David Clifford had more assists than a St Bernard in the first half. He looked the part, but a smaller part. At minor level Clifford towered over his opponents, but his marker Caolan Ward was the bigger man.

Ward's club Naomh Adhamhnáin is named after St Eunan, who was The Abbot of Iona. St Eunan was very good to captives and young people.

Ward played Clifford with a series of pulls, tugs, nudges and clever positioning, but at no stage did he resort to any dirty play. He was tough but fairly fair. Ward even shared the water bottle and there was no old horrible guff.

Clifford did cause some damage to Donegal. He is very, very good. But Ward is a decent man who can hold his head up high. Overall he did a good job.

Young Sean O'Shea scored several points from frees and play. His kicks cut and curled like a scimitar. O'Shea swung one over from far out to draw up the game, with only a few minutes left to play.

Watching, just below us on the terrace, was The Gooch on the right, Dara Ó Cinnéide in the centre and Pat Spillane stood on the left. Not easy then for the kids, but Eamonn Fitzmaurice knows he has the players.

Kerry full-back Jason Foley had a tough day when he was pulled out the field. He will get better and better. His club mate Brian Ó Seanacháin scored a vital point. He is a natural wing-forward grafter, but with a sweet kick. We need men who can run in Croke Park and players who can run fast.

Clifford was substituted in the second-half, mysteriously. Maybe they were trying to protect him, but the decision was as mystifying as the dropping of James O'Donoghue for the All Ireland semi-final replay last year against Mayo.

James came on, but he was off before very long due to a calf injury. We wish him well. James will be needed big time come summer, when the livin' is hard.

The Kerry attack was excellent, but the full-back line was exposed when Foley was dragged out. There were too many one-on-ones, and two-on-twos. Backs have no chance. The Kerry way has been to let backs play man-to-man.

But this was back in the day when inside defenders could get away with cute fouls. There are more eyes now than in North Korea. I'm not for packing the backline, but maybe if one stayed back, especially when the opposition had only 14 men.

If Kerry play with abandon from now, we could still win with open football and every game a shoot- out. It will be some fun finding out.

Poor old Donegal had a long journey home. And without a point. Surely such brave and skilful displays deserve some recognition. It is time for a bonus point system in the National League. Donegal played at pace. The lateral pass and the backward pass-the-parcel may be a thing of the past - and it was so good to watch. Donegal deserved the draw at least.

Odhrán MacNiallais mixed skill with fruitful endeavour. He was by some way the best player on view. Patrick McBrearty was as ever deadly accurate. Donegal played for fun; free at last from the tyranny of defensive football.

The press box here in the old stadium looks out over The Reeks.

There's a blue and claret sky holding out against the twilight. The raucous caws of the crows serenade the end of the day. Killarney is known as Beauty's Home and in spite of all the cards, Round 1 was a good day for the beautiful game.

Kerry and Donegal have no shortage of mountains and the big ones have yet to be scaled.

Today was just base camp.

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